POV: “Enough is enough!”

Points_viewToday’s “Point of View” comes to us from Jessica Melchior, a third grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in the Schalmont Central School District. It is the transcript of her remarks given at the “Save Our Schools” advocacy event that took place at South Colonie High School on February 26, 2015.

I am not against Common Core.  I am not against APPR.  I am not against assessments.  These reforms can inform teaching in a professional learning community to meet the needs of all learners.  As a veteran, national board certified teacher I have seen these ideas evolve and grow.  I see their ability to reform education, not by tearing it down but by fostering it.

However, the governor has hijacked these ideas, these crucial aspects of the educational community. On our quest to race from here to there, to compete with other countries, to vilify the people who spend their days in service of others; we have failed to reap the rewards of these ideas.  We have digressed into partisan bickering about common core, turned APPR into a witch hunt and lost sight of the real purpose of assessment in a professional learning community.  As the self-proclaimed lobbyist for the students, Governor Cuomo has missed the mark.  The governor consistently fails to recognize what is truly important in our classrooms… and in our lives.

Last spring I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was on March 27th, only a couple of weeks before my 3rd Graders would be taking their first New York State assessment. I went from one day focusing on my students to the next wondering whether I would ever get to return to a classroom again.  I had taught and they had practiced basic test taking strategies, I had helped them see themselves as readers, modeled how to write extended responses and we had shared a variety of mathematical strategies to solve problems. I used yoga and visualization to help students cope with test anxiety.  But in the end, I couldn’t be there for them when they faced a test that was leaps and bounds more challenging than any practice they had taken or any experience they had ever had in a classroom.  I wasn’t there for them when they reached frustration points within the first few minutes of the test or when they put their heads down to cry because there was no way they could finish in time.

Why would we put our students through these assessments?  In the past I believe the state tests have improved education by driving us to increase rigor in our curriculum and standards.  I’ve taught valuable strategies for test taking and for coping with stress.   We celebrate successes and learn from mistakes.  And it makes sense to link the assessments with Common Core.  But that is not the full picture; these assessments represent a rigor that is above even our increased grade level common core standards.  The assessments are built upon standards that begin in Pre-K and increase in complexity.  However, students had to start with whatever grade they were in when the new tests were implemented. Meanwhile, the test-maker, Pearson, is being left unchecked; the Governor has re-negged on promises to parents and teachers; and teachers have become scapegoats for poor results.  The Governor proposes an equation that makes no mathematical sense; requiring that test scores account for 50% of a teacher’s performance grade but then adding the caveat that poor test scores automatically means a rating of “ineffective”.  Cuomo and Commissioner King have brought nothing but stress and heartache to the educational community, with the exception of Pearson executives and privatized schools.  Commissioner King decreed that there should be no “trick questions” yet he allowed for multiple choice questions with 16 lines of text for students to read.  They use literature by authors like Daniel Pinkwater which were never intended for multiple choice questions or essays.  They selected texts deliberately above students’ grade levels for a test that is supposed to measure grade level achievement. They wrote multiple step problems to assess a single math standard even though solving the problem would require understanding of several standards.  They graded teachers, principals and schools based on tests and cut scores that can change on a political or corporate whim.  The scores of these assessments are not even shared with teachers until the following year, and even then the data we receive is so limited that it cannot even be used to adjust instruction. This process is anything but transparent!

I am not only a teacher, but also a parent of two boys; a 3rd Grader and a Kindergartner.  My 3rd Grader uses Common Core Math Strategies naturally and is an avid reader but I wonder what he will do when the questions become too confusing and the texts become too challenging.  Will we be testing his true ability or how much of this he will put up with before he shuts down?  I wonder how many tests my Kindergartner will take before he gets to 3rd Grade.   If the purpose of all these SLOs and state tests are truly to inform his teacher’s instruction or to individualize his needs; that is fine by me.  If the purpose is to assess his teachers, at his expense, without any benefit to his learning than it has no place in the classroom or our educational system.  All kids need to learn, but these tests are becoming a distraction.

When I returned to my classroom after 10 months of doctor appointments, second opinions, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments I faced a new class of 3rd Graders.  They had built a classroom community without me and I needed to find my place in it.  No amount of common core, APPR or state tests could get in our way.  We needed to work together.  I would love to invite Governor Cuomo and our legislators into my classroom to see the community we have made and to see real learning taking place.  You won’t see my students filling in bubbles on a scantron.  You will see authentic tasks that imbed learning; you will see teachable moments and you will see cooperative learning.

I am a human being.  Our children are humans.  We all deserve better than this.  Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used; as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community.  Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take common core out of context for a political agenda. Let’s not forget, Governor, teachers are human beings and their students are too.  Enough is enough!

Hundreds pack Colonie High for ‘Save Our Schools’ advocacy event

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Watervliet City Schools superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan address local legislators.

Stakeholders from school districts around the Capital Region converged Thursday night at Colonie Central High School to continue an annual call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.

Local legislators from around the region were in attendance and given prime seating – on the stage – providing them the opportunity to hear firsthand from area educators, students, parents and board members how a lack of funding, unfair assessments and performance evaluations are crippling public education.

According to organizers, the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which takes money away from schools to help balance the state budget, has cost Capital Region schools approximately $445 million in promised state aid. This loss in aid has forced many districts to lay off teachers and staff, and cut educational program offerings to students.

“Governor Cuomo said that teachers wouldn’t be impacted. Tell that to the 30,000 teachers that have been let go,” Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District teacher Laura Bellinger said.

District leaders directed their frustration at the inequitable distribution of aid and pleaded with local legislators to correct the problem.

“I’m not asking for someone else’s piece of the pie,” Watervliet City Schools superintendent Lori Caplan said. “I just want fair and equitable distribution.”

“We have to change the funding formula and make it fair to all districts,” Assemblyman James Tedisco said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all system.”

The teachers who spoke urged the legislators to use a common sense approach when it comes to student assessments and teacher evaluations.

The Governor’s budget proposal outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We all deserve better than this,” Schalmont teacher Jessica Melchior said. “Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used; as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community. Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take Common Core out of context for a political agenda.”

Students in attendance also spoke out on testing, questioning the importance of pre-tests, which are given before any subject matter is taught in a given area, to judge how much a student knows.

“It’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously,” Schalmont student Bill Schmidt said. “We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A bubbles on our scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked ‘A’.”  

The legislators in attendance urged those in attendance to stay vocal and keep the pressure on the governor in order to get the change they want.

“Keep your voices strong,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “Stay strong. We’re going to get this done.”

Siena poll: More parental involvement, more time for tenure, voters side with teachers over Cuomo

A Siena poll released Tuesday morning shows that voters think that lack of parental involvement is the main reason why not enough high school students graduate college or are career ready.

The poll also indicates that 48 percent of voters generally side with the teachers’ union on educational issues, while 36 percent side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A plurality, 37 percent, says that not enough parental involvement is the single biggest reason that not enough high schoolers graduate college or career ready, followed by 18 percent who say it’s insufficient education funding, 17 percent point to the effects of poverty, 12 percent say ineffective state education oversight, and only 10 percent blame the quality of New York’s teachers. By an overwhelming 62-29 percent, voters say teachers should be eligible for tenure after five years, as Cuomo has proposed, rather than the current three years.

“A plurality of voters from every party and region says the level of parental involvement is the single largest problem facing schools today, more so than education funding, poverty, oversight, or teacher quality,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said. “Downstate suburban and upstate voters think their local public schools do at least a good job of preparing students, however, New York City voters disagree more than two-to-one. A majority of all voters, including two-thirds from New York City, says that schools statewide are doing only a fair or poor job of preparing students.

“In the ongoing war of words between Cuomo and the teachers’ unions over a broad array of education issues, a plurality of voters sides with the unions, including a majority of Democrats and upstaters and a plurality of Republicans and downstate suburbanites. Independents and New York City voters are closely divided. Men and voters in non-union households are also closely divided, while women and voters in union households more strongly side with the teachers’ unions,” Greenberg said.

New NYSUT ad calls Cuomo’s priorities ‘wrong’

NYSUT has taken to the airwaves, producing a new commercial that calls Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education priorities “wrong” and asks that he visit a classroom to learn what all kids need to get a great education.

Since the Governor released his budget proposal on Jan. 21 calling for significant changes to the teacher evaluation process, NYSUT has been on the offensive, launching new ad and social media campaigns. In a recent video address to NYSUT members, president Karen Magee said that Gov. Cuomo has declared war on the teaching profession.

“Instead of standing with educators, parents and community, the Governor has chosen to side with his billionaire friends, and with those who seek to demonize public education and service and seek to vilify and scapegoat teachers,” Magee said.

Cuomo has called for changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his budget proposal, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

“The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably – while giving all teachers the tools and support they need – is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug,” Magee said following the Governor’s budget address.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

DiNapoli: 90 school districts in fiscal stress

Ninety public school districts statewide are fiscally stressed, accounting for 13 percent of the 672 reviewed, according to New York state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

This is the second year DiNapoli’s office has assessed and scored the financial stability of school districts. Last year, 87 districts were listed in fiscal stress.

“School districts are the hearts of many of our communities, but they face fiscal pressures that are unlikely to change any time soon,” DiNapoli said. “Although the increases in fiscal stress are relatively minor, the same problems persist, including increased deficits and dwindling fund balances. I urge school officials, especially those overseeing districts with deteriorating fiscal health, to use these scores as an impetus for more deliberate and careful long-term budget planning.”

10 school districts are listed in “significant stress”. They include Wyandanch Union Free School District (Suffolk County); Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District (Niagara); East Ramapo Central School District (Rockland); Lawrence Union Free School District (Nassau); Watervliet City School District (Albany); Copiague Union Free School District (Suffolk); Lewiston-Porter Central School District (Niagara); West Seneca Central School District (Erie); Hempstead Union Free School District (Nassau); and the Peekskill City School District (Westchester).

According to language in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms the Governor outlined in his budget address last week, districts will not receive any aid greater than their 2014-15 amount for each of the next two years.

Complicating matters for districts, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

Click here to read the complete report and a list of school district fiscal stress scores.

NYSECB letter to Cuomo: School districts should not be held hostage

The New York State Educational Conference Board, comprised of the seven leading educational organizations across the state, has penned a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanding that state aid runs be released to school districts immediately.

“In our collective memory, it is unprecedented for the state to withhold the release of executive budget aid runs.
These aid runs are not simply a state budget “tradition,” they are necessary and indeed critical to the local
budget development process for hundreds of school districts across the state.”

Last week, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

Click here to read the entire letter [PDF]

Reaction to Governor’s education budget proposal

Reaction to the Governor’s budget proposal from yesterday has been pouring in. Here’s a roundup.

Organization responses

From Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

“Governor Cuomo has laid out an ambitious plan for our schools and our students. Many of his proposals mirror the Board of Regents’ recommendations and we’re eager to pursue those important initiatives. It’s clear the Governor is committed to work together to make sure all our students have the educational opportunities they deserve.

While there is still much to be done, our students have made strong progress in recent years. Even in the face of higher, more challenging standards, New York’s high school graduation rate continues to improve. In classrooms across the state, teachers are successfully implementing those higher standards. Students are building the knowledge they need to be successful in college and the workplace. The Board of Regents looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to make sure that progress continues.”

News articles

Cuomo calls for $1.1 billion school aid increase and education reforms, no mention of GEA

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Note: This story was updated on Jan. 23 to reflect the current interpretation of the Governor’s budget bill regarding aid increases.

Under the Executive Budget Proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, state funding for schools would increase by $1.1 billion next year – provided that state lawmakers go along with a series of education reforms that he described as “ambitious” in his combined budget address and State of the State message.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

An additional $1.1 billion in state aid next year would represent a 4.8 percent increase over the current year. The Division of Budget announced that school aid runs would not be released to districts until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda.

According to language in the Governor’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms he outlined, districts will not see an increase in state aid next year or the year after.

The Governor also did not address the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, which is the mechanism through which the state has diverted promised school funding over the last five years to meet other budget priorities. In that time, schools have lost more than $9.52 billion cumulatively to the GEA, and they are still owed $1.04 billion.

The overall proposed increase in aid falls short of the $2 billion or more that the New York State Board of Regents and leading education groups have called for to meet the needs of students next year.

The Governor is also proposing to make permanent the state’s property tax levy cap, which is set to expire after this current year, as well as a new “circuit breaker” tax reduction program. This would reduce property taxes for some homeowners and renters based on income and the amount of their tax bills.

The series of education reforms Cuomo called for included changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his speech, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

The budget proposal includes funding to continue rewarding teachers with annual stipends who are deemed highly effective and who mentor their peers. The Governor would also create a teacher-in-residency program akin to what is provided for doctors and offer free tuition to top SUNY/CUNY graduates who commit to teaching in New York schools for five years.

The Governor’s proposal also continues to provide grants for the “P-Tech” Pathways in Technology and Early College High School program, which connects high school to two years of college in the STEM fields.

Cuomo outlined a plan to address what he called “failing schools” that would allow a nonprofit, turnaround expert or another district to take over a school after three years of poor results. This entity would be charged with overhauling the curriculum, terminating underperforming staff and recruiting high-performing educators. These schools would be given priority in a variety of state grant programs, and the students would be given priority in charter school lotteries.

The Governor proposed combining the charter school caps for New York City and the rest of the state into one statewide cap and increasing it by 100 new charter schools, for a total cap of 560. Under the existing caps, there are 24 slots left for new charter schools in New York City and 159 slots available statewide. The governor also proposed legislation to ensure that charter schools serve “their fair share” of high-needs populations in relation to public schools, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

Cuomo also proposed an additional $365 million in spending for universal prekindergarten, in line with the plan approved last year to phase $1.5 billion in over five years to expand prekindergarten access statewide. He also called for $25 million for new preschool programs for 3-year-olds in the state’s highest-need school districts.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for the preschool initiative, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Click here to download the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Briefing Book [PDF]

Gov. Cuomo to unveil ‘Opportunity Agenda’ today

Gov. Cuomo will be presenting his 2015-16 budget with the 2015 State of the State Address in a joint roll out being called the ‘2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda’ this afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, Cuomo has been laying the groundwork for an aggressive education agenda, repeating numerous times that better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving and entrenched public education system.

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly,” Cuomo said in October.

Cuomo believes that the current evaluation system for teachers is too easy to pass. Cuomo said he would push for a plan that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s office has declined to comment on his education agenda or disclose what proposals he will make today.

Mr. Cuomo is likely to face resistance to some of his priorities from the Democratic-led Assembly, which tends to side with the teachers’ union, while getting support from the Republican-led Senate.

 – NY Times, ‘Cuomo’s Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers’ Unions’, Jan. 20, 2015.

The 2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda will be presented at 1:30 p.m. in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. Ed Speaks will be live-tweeting the Governor’s address this afternoon. Follow along, @edspeaksNY.

POV: Teacher Evaluation vs. Student Achievement: Minimal Correlation

Points_viewMany would believe that the state mandated evaluation system is a fair and appropriate method for evaluating teachers and principals and that teacher evaluations are linked directly and solely to New York state assessment results. Recent news reports have attempted to draw a direct comparison between New York state assessment results and teacher evaluation ratings. However, these misleading commentaries have been based on a lack of understanding of how assessment scores are used in teacher evaluations.

A recent article serves as a good example, comparing teacher and principal evaluation ratings to NYS assessment results from the 2013-2014 school year. Included was that (not counting New York City) about 39% of teachers and 61% of principals received “effective” ratings while 58% of teachers and 33% of principals earned the top rating of “highly effective.” This was contrasted with the 2014 NYS assessment results, where approximately 40% of students in grades three to eight scored at the proficient level or higher on the NYS math and ELA assessments.

Teacher effectiveness is so much more than results on one annual test. In fact, state assessment results are only mandated to be included in the evaluations of math and English teachers, grades 4-8, and in the evaluations of elementary, middle school and junior high building principals. In my school (Shaker Junior High School) that is a total of 16 teachers out of my total faculty of about 75 teachers.

Yes, such comparisons are clearly misleading. The truth is that NYS assessment results are included in the evaluations of only 21% of the teachers in my building, which is probably consistent with every other school in New York state.

To further underscore how misleading such comparisons are, let’s take a closer look at the evaluations of math and English teachers in grades 3-8 and determine how the NYS assessment results are included in them. NYS assessment results constitute 20 of the 100 points that comprise a teacher’s (or a principal’s) evaluation; these point totals are computed and provided by the NYS Education Department. That’s right, only 20% of a math or English teacher’s (or a building principal’s) evaluation is based on state assessment results.

Think about that. NYS assessment results account for 20% of about 21% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations state wide. If you just use these two percentages to calculate a rough, non-mathematical effect, (i.e. multiply 20% by 21%), you get an effect range of about 4%. Yes, NYS assessment results constitute about 4% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations. Interesting, as news reports (and politicians) would have you believe something very different. Not even being considered are the many other aspects of teaching that are included in an evaluation, the comparisons would have you believe that assessment data and evaluations are one and the same.

Let’s at least include the pertinent information about evaluations in news reporting and give readers the true data to fully comprehend the numbers. Let’s make sure that readers understand that there exists no significant connection between the state wide evaluation ratings and NYS assessment results. But, that doesn’t provoke readers nor is it of interest to politicians. No, the real story behind the sound bites is often quite un-newsworthy.

This Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in his 27th year as a principal. You can read more from him at his blog “Moore Perspective.”